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bringing a story to fruition

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by ScooterP, Feb 4, 2007.

  1. ScooterP

    ScooterP New Member

    I am a freelance writer who mostly gets called for assignments. One of my goals is to pitch a story and then get it published. Here is my problem. I get good ideas but I can't seem to bring them to fruition. They often break down due to lack of organization and direction. The Wall Street Journal Guide to Feature Writing suggests making a page and listing who, what, when, where, why and how and filling those areas in to flush a story's true character out. What are some of your suggestions?

    Anything you can tell is most appreciated.
  2. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Scoots -

    Do you mean you're having trouble organizing the stories sufficiently to pitch them? Or that you're having trouble organizing the story itself once you've begun the research/writing process? Reframe your questions a little more narrowly, and we'll go through this point by point.

    This has the potential to be a good thread here, because a lot of us struggle in these same areas.

    I think we all conceive/pitch/organize our work differently. It's pretty idiosyncratic, so finding out what works for you specifically is going to be important. It's as much a creative issue as it is a question of mechanics.

    I'm a longform magazine and book writer. Sometimes (but very rarely) I go into a story knowing exactly what I want and how to get it. Much more often though, I'm not sure what the heart of a feature might be until I'm in the middle of researching it. Occasionally, I won't know what a story's about until I've written an entire draft of the thing, read it down, and realize that I've missed the center of the story entirely.

    So there's as much alchemy to it as there is craft.

    But let's start with a refinement of your questions, and see where it leads us.

    Thanks for posting.
  3. ScooterP

    ScooterP New Member

    I have trouble during the research/writing process. I often have no direction and it frustrates me. I am the kind of guy who likes to know a method or a formula to use and I feel like I have none.
  4. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Thanks for sticking with this, Scooter. Before we go much farther, and before I ladle out a bunch of not very helpful generalizations, I think I'll post some questions to get a better idea of what might be hanging you up in the story process. As I said in my first post, this work is pretty idiosyncratic, and everybody comes at it from different angles.

    - Are you pitching your stories to one place mainly? Or to various publications?

    - If you're pitching to the same publication again and again, do you have an editor with whom you work on an ongoing basis for these pieces?

    - When you say you "have no direction," what do you mean? Same for the word "organization." And at what point in the process do you start to feel that way?

    - Do you write query letters? If so, when you write a query letter pitching a story, do you have a pretty good idea what the central point of the story is?

    - Do you feel the story slipping away from you more often when you're researching, or when you're writing? Does this feeling arise at roughly the same point in all cases?

    - Do you outline your stories before you research them? Do you outline them before you write them? Do you update your outline as your research and writing progresses? Do you not use outlines at all?

    - What kind of stories are we talking about? Profiles? General features? Historical pieces?

    - What's the average length of time you take to research and write a freelanced story?

    - What length are we talking about? 500 words? 1,000? 5,000?

    - How do you decide who you're going to interview for your stories?

    - Do you write every day?

    Answer all or some of these, and we'll try to solve whatever's getting you down. Thanks.
  5. Jones

    Jones Active Member

    Yeah, I have to (as usual) agree with jcmacg here: I've been thinking of how to answer this question, but wasn't sure how to attack it. It's too open-ended.

    A little more info, and I'll join in the effort to help.
  6. ScooterP

    ScooterP New Member

    the quuery hasn't even begun yet.

    outlines have never really been my thing. I used a who, what, when, where, how, and why and fill in each one.

    general features.

    spend a lot of time researching the story.

    interviewing starts with experts and moves on from there.

    hope this helps.
  7. My advice would be to start using outlines. There is no better way of organizing a story, at least for me. With an outline, I not only know what I have before I start the actual writing, I also have a pretty good idea of where the story might be lacking, which gives me the chance to start plugging holes before I've even written an "official" word.
    Outlines might not work for everybody, but for somebody who is struggling with organization and direction, I can't think of a better tool than the outline.
    Hope that helps ... at least a little.
  8. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Sirs, Madames,

    To shamelessly name-drop, Budd Schulberg once told me that he outlined everything right down to an 800-word book review. I was sorta in and out on it before but stuck to it after. Starts with maybe five headings in point form for a 3000-word story, eventually fleshing it out and filling it in so that every graf gets a point for heading (like doing Mapquest for a story). If it works for one of my boyhood heroes (What Makes Sammy Run, On the Waterfront, The Disenchanted, The Harder They Fall) I've always hoped it would work for me (on a much smaller scale).

    YHS, etc
  9. Taylee

    Taylee Member

    Amen to that. Almost every story I've written, always on enterprise or in-depth features, I use an outline. It keeps you on the path, helping to avoiding straying from a direction of thought. My writers are required to provide an outline for enterprise and in-depth features. Some balked at first, but all have said it helps.
    Don't think that "outlines really aren't my thing."
    It's an essential and useful organizational tool.
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